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Written by on July 16, 2023

The 40,000 square foot “The Book of Hov,” Roc Nation’s homage to its founder, Jay-Z, which opens at the Brooklyn Public Library this weekend, not far from the now-famous Marcy Projects where the man grew up.

Remarkably, the entire project was kept a secret from Jay and his wife Beyoncé until the day before it opened, although Beyoncé’s ongoing “Renaissance” tour was probably a useful distraction.

Billed as an homage to Jay’s influence on culture, music, business and social justice, it’s a sprawling history of his life and career that extends into two floors of the museum, containing recordings, clothing, artifacts from his career, audio tours, tons of video and most of all, a living testament to his remarkable accomplishments over the past three and a half decades. Best of all? It’s free to everyone, and for those unable to visit, the entire exhibit is available on at thebookofhov.com, with detailed information and photos of each item.

Rather than taking a chronological approach, the exhibit is divided into seven “zones,” based on lyrics or phrases from Jay’s songs like “Hov Did That,” “So Fly,” “A Work of Art Already,” and more (they’re described below). The exterior of the building is part of the exhibit as well, with its entire, historic front façade covered with a giant adhesive billboard bearing quotes from Jay, as well as a large video cube in front of the building, reminiscent of (but smaller than) the one in the center of the stage on Beyonce’s 2016 “Lemonade” tour.

Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez says the idea came about as she worked to catalog and store Jay’s vast archives, and was exploring ideas for ways to display it publicly. The company had initial conversations with the Brooklyn Museum, which staged the Bowie exhibit, but it didn’t feel like the right fit, possibly because — although she didn’t use this word — it may have felt elitist.

However, when Brooklyn Public Library President/CEO Linda Johnson reached out to Roc Nation seeking items for an exhibit it was planning based on hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, Perez knew she’d found the right place. The library is the right size and scale for what they had in mind; it’s not far from the famous Marcy Projects where Jay was born, raised and dreamed of the career that he’s been manifesting for more than 30 years; it is a living symbol of the language and wordplay that Jay’s career is based on; and most importantly, it’s for everyone.

That inclusive quality is central to the exhibit, which was paid for entirely by Roc Nation — Perez will only say that it cost “millions” — and the fact that it is not only free to everyone who wants to attend, it will inspire people to get library cards. There will even be a series of custom cards, one each for Jay’s 13 albums, and a special boxed set of them, autographed by Jay, will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to support public libraries.

Roc Nation co-founder and vice chairman Jay Brown tells Variety, “It’s an absolute honor to bring this exhibit to life and highlight Jay’s unprecedented impact on music, culture, business, philanthropy and society. He leveraged his artistic genius to ascend heights that were previously unimaginable. The exhibit is a testament to JAY-Z setting a blueprint for the leaders of tomorrow to follow.”

An overview of the “zones” follows:

1) “Already a Work of Art”: This section features objects from Jay’s career — from the jacket of his “Decoded” book to a recreation of the Marcy Project sign — with audio of interviews with him recorded during each era of his career. There is also a big video screen showing archival clips and a giant college of Jay images designed by artist Jazz Grant.

2) A recreation of Baseline Studios, where much of Jay’s work was recorded. Roc Nation owns the studio so a lot of the actual equipment was there, and it was painstakingly rendered to be as accurate as possible: According to Perez, her husband Roc Nation Sports President Juan Perez, who has known Jay since 1996, went in and said, “No, that panel was brown, not black!” and other tweaks. It also features two different audio tours that include interviews with people who worked in the studio and at the company.

3) “Did It Without a Pen”: This section is about Jay’s music, its creation and influence. His actual master recordings are on display — tape reels, DATs, presumably hard drives — along with notes, objects like his own turntables, his gold and platinum awards, magazine covers and more. There is also a vinyl collection of the records containing all 236 of the samples used on his recordings, and a large library of over 400 books Jay was reading at the time of the songs’ creation or referenced in them.

4) “Win-Win & Business, Man”: This zone covers Jay’s businesses and philanthropic efforts, including artifacts and audio tours covering his Roc-A-Fella and Roc Nation businesses, Rocawear apparel, his 4040 Club, Tidal streaming service, his liquor brands and of course the Shawn Carter Foundation.

5) So Fly: With the phrase “Greatness is a process” on the wall, this zone is for children, with a small play area and a station where kids can build and illustrate their own paper airplanes, which are hung from the ceiling above the neon Roc Nation paper-plane logo that is in the company’s lobby. A paper plane is not only the logo of Roc Nation — it was a childhood hobby of Jay’s — but also has come to symbolize hope, dreams and ambition.

6) “Hov Did That”: The exhibition moves upstairs to the second floor of the library, and in its mezzanine section is a 44-foot-long (that Jay-referencing number is a coincidence, Perez laughed), 7-foot-high gallery of rare photos, most of which are previously uncirculated shots of Jay with other artists, working in the studio, and other casual pictures. Most of this exhibit is inside darkened rooms, with multiple video screens as well as objects like the guitar and mic-stand-with-scarf Jay used when headlining the Glastonbury festival in England (as a response to a comment from Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, who’d said rappers shouldn’t headline the traditionally rock festival), the jersey Jay wore on opening night of the Barclays Center, which he played a huge role in bringing to Brooklyn; awards from the Rock Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame, etc.

7) Finally, the exhibit concludes with a bright blue tunnel, a room reflecting Jay’s “dedication to his manifestations.” There are sound clips of him as a young artist discussing the need to own his publishing and his master recordings (he does now) and control distribution (hence Tidal), right up to the present.

“And it still goes on, every day,” Perez says, citing Jay’s multibillion-dollar moves into the champagne and spirits industry — which was opposed by some in that business — the company’s partnership with the NFL to produce the Super Bowl Halftime show, and his plans for the casino in Times Square.

Indeed, organizers say that part of the reason why the exhibit is not chronologically themed is because Jay’s career is still a work in progress. But as “The Book of Hov” shows, his first 53 years have been a monumental achievement …


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